David's Reviews > The Leopard

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
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's review
Aug 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2011
Read in August, 2011

Another classic I can cross off my "to read before I die" list. It's one of those books that has a definite low-key charm throughout and that ends up affecting you to an unexpected degree by the end. It tells the story of the decline of an aristocratic Sicilian family following Garibaldi's unification of Italy in 1860. The entire narrative spans half a century, but the vast majority of the action takes place in the months immediately surrounding the dissolution of the Bourbon monarchy of Sicily and Naples, focusing on the fortunes of Prince Fabrizio, the leopard of the title, and his family.

The story is essentially Lampedusa's reimagining of his own family history, with the central figure of Prince Fabrizio corresponding to his great-grandfather. Upon its publication, the book managed to give offence across the entire political spectrum -- the Prince's skeptical ruminations on his fellow aristocrats, the clergy, the champions of the Risorgimento, and the Sicilian peasantry may have cut a little too close to the bone for comfort. Despite, or perhaps because of, the controversy it provoked, "The Leopard" went on to become (one of?) the top-selling novels in Italian history. The 1963 film based on the book, with Burt Lancaster in the title role, directed by Luchino Visconti also met with critical acclaim. Sadly, the author died of lung cancer in 1957, before the book was accepted for publication (he had received two rejections, with one editor declaring the manuscript to be "unpublishable").

Although the fortunes of the Sicilian aristocracy might not seem like a particularly promising subject to engage the reader's interest, "The Leopard" is unexpectedly captivating. It works for a couple of reasons -- the main character is drawn with great affection, but also with depth and subtlety -- you enjoy spending time in his head. There's a slightly melancholy tone throughout the work that also adds to the book's appeal. It's easy to understand why "The Leopard" has become a minor classic. I enjoyed it far more than I had expected to.
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-4 of 4) </span> <span class="smallText">(4 new)</span>

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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna It's subtle while it works its way under the skin. I enjoyed this one for the same reasons.

message 2: by Trevor (new)

Trevor It is literally 30 years since I read this, but the part that I remember most is the two young lovers making their way through the unused rooms of the palace. And then of course the images he draws so well, the dog at the end, the roses as big as cabbages at the start. I think you are right, this is a slow burn but goes on affecting the reader.

message 3: by Trevor (new)

Trevor The book is not an easy read. It is often set as a text for Literature over here. As they say, it is a text that offers some resistance. But it is beautifully written and all the more interesting as it is set at a time when old certainties were being replaced with new ones.

K.D. Absolutely Nice review, David.

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